Feds vow to send Illinois ventilators, masks after Pritzker and Trump talk things through

The White House’s promise to send Illinois 300 ventilators and 250,000 masks came some 24 hours after Pritzker complained “the only way to get the president of the United States to pay attention is to go on national television and make noise about it.”

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Gov. J.B. Pritzker, left, and then-President Donald Trump, right, in 2020.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker, left, announces a shelter in place order on Friday; President Donald Trump, right, speaks about the coronavirus Monday in Washington.

Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times file; Alex Brandon/AP file

After a string of national TV appearances in which Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker criticized President Donald Trump’s response to the coronavirus pandemic — and a couple of Twitter tirades — the White House on Monday has vowed to send Illinois 300 ventilators and 250,000 masks.

According to the governor’s office, that assurance came from a White House aide on Monday afternoon after Pritzker and Trump spoke directly on the phone at about noon. It also came some 24 hours after Pritzker complained “the only way to get the president of the United States to pay attention is to go on national television and make noise about it.”

Pritzker’s office said Illinois is expected to get 300 ventilators and 250,000 N95 masks.

For well over a week, the Democratic governor has been lobbing complaints at the president via Twitter and on NBC’s “Meet the Press” and CNN’s “State of the Union.”

In one tweet on March 14, Pritzker — upset at a throng of thousands at O’Hare International Airport waiting for medical screenings — wrote that the “federal government needs to get its s@#t together.” The next day on “Meet the Press,” Pritzker said governors are on their own to face the pandemic.

By Sunday, Trump responded to Pritzker in a tweet, saying a certain group of governors and “Fake News” stations “shouldn’t be blaming the Federal Government for their own shortcomings. We are there to back you up should you fail, and always will be!”

By mid-day Monday, Pritzker and Trump were on the phone directly ahead of a planned teleconference call with governors and Vice President Mike Pence. The governor told reporters that he reached out to the president, and Trump returned the call.

At a daily COVID-19 news conference in Chicago, Pritzker said he told Trump that one manufacturer warned him that Illinois was competing with FEMA to acquire ventilators. Another manufacturing company told Pritzker that Illinois would be competing with other countries as well. Pritzker said he was told by the company to “put in as big an order as possible in order to put myself higher on the list of priority to get ventilators.”

“The president was very responsive, frankly. ... He didn’t so much like the idea of invoking the Defense Production Act but he did say, ‘What do you need? Let me see if I can get that for you.’ And I gave him some numbers. I told him, oh, we had ordered from the government already, and he said, ‘Let me work on that,’” Pritzker said. “It seems like he’s being very responsive to what I asked for and I hope that we’ll be able to receive those items in relatively short order.”

At his own news conference later, Trump said, “we are going to be helping them out in Illinois.”

According to the governor’s office, the state has requested 2.34 million N95 face masks from the federal government, but has received just over 10% of that request — 246,860 masks. Illinois has also requested 4,000 ventilators and received none.

Those requests were made collectively on March 6 and March 20, the governor’s office said.

As of Monday, Illinois had 1,285 confirmed cases of coronavirus in 31 counties. So far, 12 people have died in the state. 

Pritzker’s office on Monday night said the presidential phone call was “cordial,” and Trump promised to get Illinois needed medical supplies.

“The Governor is pleased that a one-on-one call with the President resulted in the promise of delivering PPE [personal protection equipment] and ventilators for Illinois and he is grateful to the President for his quick action,” Pritzker spokeswoman Jordan Abudayyeh said. “The Governor continues working day and night with his staff to procure the necessary supplies for our healthcare workers and first responders, and he will continue working with leaders from both sides of the aisle to deliver for the people of Illinois.”

Pritzker’s office said the lines of communication were always open between the governor and the president. Last week after Pritzker questioned where personal protective equipment and testing supplies were on a White House conference call, the president told Pritzker to call him directly should he need anything, the governor’s office said.

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